Over Christmas, I saw a programme where John Cleese selected his top 10 Basil Fawlty moments. I have selected my ten favourite Basil Fawlty moments; the first nine are in chronological order, with the last moment being my favourite Basil Fawlty moment.
1. Greeting Lord Melbury (A Touch Of Class): Fawlty is on the phone to a builder (O’Reilly) that he has employed to build a wall, but has yet to do so. Fawlty is at his sarcastic best on the phone, berating O’Reilly and not accepting his excuses. Whilst speaking on the phone, a guest arrives. Fawlty shoves a card at him, ordering him to fill it in. Fawlty makes no attempt to be polite to the guest and when the guest says he only uses one name, resulting in Fawlty asking him if he has a first name. The guest at this point announces that he only uses one as he is Lord Melbury. Fawlty is still on the phone and thinks for a few seconds before telling O’Reilly, ‘Go away’ and proceeds to fawn all over Lord Melbury, throwing away the card he had given him.
2. ‘A bit of cheese in the windpipe’ (The Hotel Inspectors): Fawlty has been warned that there are hotel inspectors in the area, sending him into a state of panic. Fawlty is initially hostile towards Mr Hutchinson and is rude towards him until Mr Hutchinson states that he has a lot of experience of staying in hotels; Fawlty immediately concludes that Mr Hutchinson is one of the inspectors and proceeds to go out of his way to be polite and offer Mr Hutchinson everything he possibly can. However, Fawlty then discovers that Mr Hutchinson is actually a spoon salesman; Fawlty feels he has been duped and reverts back to being rude and aggressive towards Mr Hutchinson. Unsurprisingly, Mr Hutchinson is not happy with this and starts to complain loudly in the dining room. Fawlty tries to laugh it off, but Mr Hutchinson continues so Fawlty ends up smothering him and chopping him on the back of the neck, knocking him out. Turning around to alarmed guests, Fawlty announces that Mr Hutchinson has passed out due to, ‘a bit of cheese in the windpipe’.
3. Elbowing a child in the head (Gourmet Night): Fawlty, in his endless quest to improve the standing of Fawlty Towers, has arranged a gourmet night. Before the gourmet night, he has dinner with local restaurant owner Andre, who will be providing the food for the event. Whilst Andre is dining with them, Fawlty goes around the restaurant where guests are having dinner. He stops at one table where there is a family having dinner and asks them if everything is alright; the child says that it is not, with the chips being the wrong shape and wanting salad cream instead of mayonnaise. The child has an answer to everything Fawlty says and continues to be rude, resulting in Fawlty responding in kind and seeming to threaten the child when enquiring about the shape of the chips, asking if he has ‘poke-in-the-eye shape’. Fawlty ends up at a childish level; when the boy describes the mayonnaise as puke, Fawlty responds with, ‘At least it’s fresh puke – well he said it first’. After describing how his chef can squirt salad cream and scrape stuff out of a pan, Fawlty goes to leave; he lines the child up and elbows him in the head and then apologises as he walks away.
4. Fire drill (The Germans): A fire drill is planned at Fawlty Towers and when an alarm goes off, guests start to make their way out. Fawlty stops guests leaving, announcing that the fire drill has not started and that the burglar alarm has gone off. Fawlty argues about the exact time and the sound of the two alarms (the difference is a semitone) with the guests. After sounding both alarms, Fawlty then announces that the fire drill will follow in 30 seconds. The guests stay where they are, setting Fawlty off on a rant and sarcastically pointing out that all the guests would be in the reception area if there were to be a fire. Meanwhile, Manuel is in the kitchen and a fire has broken out. Manuel advises Fawlty of this, but Fawlty doesn’t listen and pushes Manuel back into the burning kitchen. The guests have come back in after the drill when Fawlty finally realises that there is a fire and drives the guests back out by screaming ‘Fire’ before trying to tackle the fire, but unfortunately only succeeds in firing the fire extinguisher into his own face and eventually knocking himself out.
5. Miming speaking (Communication Problems): Mrs Richards is complaining about some missing money. Fawlty is already irritated by Mrs Richards, who is similar in personality to him. Previously, Mrs Richards has not had her hearing aid switched on (‘it wastes the battery’), but on this occasion, it is switched on. Fawlty sees this a chance for revenge, showing that he takes everything personally, and mimes speaking to Mrs Richards, who turns the hearing aid up as she believes it is not working. Having turned it up, Fawlty then shouts, causing Mrs Richards to hit her head. Fawlty then finds something small on the floor and asks if it is her brain, resulting in Sybil kicking him.
6. Old Mother Johnson (The Psychiatrist): Fawlty is (correctly) convinced that one of his guests, Mr Johnson, has smuggled a woman into his room, which is against Fawlty’s rules. Fawlty takes increasingly wild steps to get proof of this, but it only results in more problems for him as there is a psychiatrist at the hotel and Sybil is convinced that Fawlty is interested in an Australian guest, with Mr Johnson being in the room between the psychiatrist and the Australian woman. Fawlty finally snaps the following day and decides to go for a direct confrontation with Mr Johnson in front of an audience he has assembled. Mr Johnson says that there is a woman in his room, but that it is his mother; Fawlty finds this amusing and asks if he can meet her; with the woman that Johnson had taken to his room having long gone, it is Mr Johnson’s mother who comes out and sees Fawlty, who promptly goes from mocking to being incredibly polite to the lady who comes out of the room; as his audience leaves, Fawlty ends up hopping with his head in his hands.
7. Ordering guests out (Waldorf Salad): An American guest arrives late and is not happy with the service he has received and decides to leave. This results in a confrontation in the reception area, with Fawlty claiming that the rest of his guests are happy and that Mr Hamilton can leave if he chooses to. However, whilst proclaiming that the rest of the guests are happy, one of them (Mr Johnston) steps forward and says that he is not happy, with others following suit. As Mr and Mrs Hamilton go upstairs to collect their bags, a humiliated Fawlty is left with all the other guests. After a few moments of contemplating, Fawlty explodes and explains that the guests are the problem and prevent him doing what he wants and finishes up by ordering them all to leave the hotel, which Sybil immediately countermands and sees Fawlty being the one who leaves, before returning and looking for a room as a guest.
8. ‘What would you like your breakfast tray made out of?’ (The Kipper And The Corpse): Mr Leeman checks in as a guest and complains of not feeling well whilst ordering breakfast in bed for the following day. Despite being (surely) a simple request for a hotel, Fawlty takes it as some kind of personal insult and once Sybil has gone, sarcastically asks Mr Leeman what wood he would like the breakfast tray to be made from and also advises that if he sleeps with his mouth open, he won’t even need to wake up as Fawlty will drop the food straight into his mouth.
9. Fawlty finds a health inspector in the kitchen (Basil The Rat): Fawlty goes into the kitchen and finds there is someone in the kitchen. Instantly, Fawlty turns on the sarcasm, introducing Mr Carnegie as having opened the self-service department. At that point, Mr Carnegie advises that he is a public health inspector and gives a long list of what is wrong with the hotel (just about everything). When Mr Carnegie finishes his extensive list, Fawlty then asks, ‘Otherwise OK?’, seemingly ignoring everything that he has just heard and trivialising the faults.
Finally, my favourite Basil Fawlty moment, which comes from what I believe to be the best episode:
Fawlty meets Mrs Richards (Communication Problems): Mrs Richards has arrived at Fawlty Towers and is not happy with her room. Manuel makes Fawlty aware of this and he goes up to her room to enquire what is wrong. Mrs Richards is very similar to Fawlty in terms of personality and the two clash immediately, with Fawlty not always being understood as Mrs Richards has a hearing problem. She complains about the bath and the view, which results in Fawlty going to his sarcastic best, enquiring what she would expect to see from the window of a Torquay hotel. Whilst the argument is going on, Fawlty takes advantage of the poor hearing of Mrs Richards and makes snide comments under his breath after explaining something to her. It is classic Fawlty, showing him to be rude and completely unsympathetic towards his customers and what they think. Whilst showing him to be rude, it also shows him to be a coward, as his most withering remarks are made quietly so he won’t be heard and challenged on them.